The experience of migration is not the same for girls and boys

To mark the publication of Être fille ou garçon, this « Focus on » the chapter entitled « Genre et migrations dans l’enfance et l’adolescence au Mali » .

The book revisits childhood and adolescence, focusing on the implication of gender in social construction processes, in Africa and Europe.

In many parts of the world, the migrations experienced by children and adolescents have become major phenomenon in their socialization. While migration may be forced, in which case it creates situations of great vulnerability and child exploitation (street children, child soldiers, child refugees, child workers), it may also be chosen, by families or by children and young people themselves.

In a rural area in southeast Mali approximately 500 km from the capital city Bamako, child and adolescent migration developed significantly from the late 1970s, and today half of the boys and girls in this population have migrated at least once before they turn 12 and almost all have migrated before age 18. While as many girls as boys migrate, reasons for doing so differ by age and gender, and this in turn generates different child and adolescent migration paths for the two sexes.

For girls, the most common migration itineraries involve being sent away from home in childhood followed by one or more labour migrations during adolescence. Little girls are sent to other family members to help with domestic work. Labour migrations are primarily to urban areas, often to Bamako. Young women are employed primarily as servants in the private homes of persons with whom they have no kinship tie. Their earnings over several years enable them to buy cloths and kitchen utensils (which often constitute their wedding trousseau) before returning to the village.

Boys’ migration itineraries are more diverse and include migrating with the family, being sent away to school and, later on, migrating to find employment in itineraries that differ from young girls’. Toward the end of childhood, boys often leave for several months to herd animals for Fula livestock farmers; they are paid in bulls’ heads. As teenagers, they, like girls, leave to work in the city, or they head out for high employment areas (plantations, mines). While boys use part of their earnings to buy personal goods (a bicycle, radio, cell phone, etc.), most of their money is sent back into the family economy.

Most of the moves children and adolescents experience are made without birth parents and are therefore designated “independent migrations”. While for both boys and girls being sent away is a parental decision and may prove a painful experience, in adolescence it is the young people themselves who decide to migrate for employment, and that type of migration is greatly valued, to the point that it counts as a strong indication for both sexes that the transition from childhood to youth has been achieved.

Source: Mélanie Jacquemin, Doris Bonnet, Christine Deprez, Marc Pilon, Gilles Pison (dir.), (2016), Être fille ou garçon. Regards croisés sur l’enfance et le genre, Paris, Ined, coll. « Questions de population »

Contact: Marie Lesclingand, Marc Pilon, Mélanie Jacquemin and Véronique Hertrich

Online : March 2017